Today, most modern homes are kept cool with the use of an air conditioning system. These systems draw heat energy out of our homes, transfers it to the outside air and replaces it with cooler air. Air conditioners can not only change the temperature of our homes, it can also change the humidity and overall quality of air in the rooms. Knowing exactly how air conditioners work can help you better maintain your overall system and prevent breakdowns and costly repairs.

How do Air Conditioners Work

An air conditioner is similar to your refrigerator, but it doesn’t have the exterior housing that comes with a fridge. While a refrigerator uses this housing to insulate its cold box, the walls of your home serve as the insulator for your air conditioner.

An air conditioner uses the same principles of your fridge to chill your indoor air. This process is achieved by following a simple physical law: as liquid converts to a gas, it absorbs heat. Air conditioners exploit this by forcing special chemical compounds to evaporate and condense over and over again in a closed system of coils.

Each air conditioner comes with three basic parts: the compressor, condenser, and evaporator. The compressor and condenser are located on the outside, while the evaporator on the inside. The cooling fluid will reach the compressor as a low-pressure gas. It is then squeezed by the compressor packing the molecules in the liquid closely together.

This fluid then exits the compressor as a high-pressure, hot gas, moving towards the condenser. As the fluid enters and leaves the condenser, it is much cooler. This process is aided with the use of the metal fins that sit all around the outside of your air conditioner. These fins work in the same way the radiator on your car does, aiding to dissipate the heat more quickly.

As the fluid leaves the condenser, it not only is cooler, but it’s also changed from a gas to a liquid due to the high pressure. This liquid then moves toward the evaporator through an extremely tiny hole. Once the liquid reaches the other side of the passage, its pressure drops allowing the fluid to evaporate into a gas.

As this is happening, heat is extracted from the surrounding air. This isn’t a bad thing, this heat is needed to separate the molecules of liquid into a gas. Don’t forget the metal fins on the outside of the air conditioning system: they also help exchange the thermal energy with the surrounding air.

Now that the fluid has left the evaporator, it becomes a low-pressure, chilled gas once again. This entire process is started all over again as the refrigerant fluid continues its journey back to the compressor.

In addition to this process, there is a fan connected to an air conditioner’s evaporator that circulates air throughout your home and across the fins of the evaporator. This is done as the air conditioning system sucks air into the ducts through a vent. The air is used to cool gas in the evaporator. As the heat is removed from the air, it’s cooled and ducts then blow cool air back into the house.

This entire process will continue until the inside air of your home reaches the temperature you’ve set on the thermostat. Once this temperature is reached, the entire air conditioner will shut off, it then kicks back on as the air in the house gets warmer and needs to be cooled again to reach the set temperature all over again.

This understanding of how A/C works can help you identify possible spots in the system that could become worn down or clogged, causing the entire system to eventually fail. The line that fluid passes through can become clogged and may need to be cleaned out, at least once a year. Ducts and vents should also be kept clean and clear of debris with vent filters replaced every three months. This will ensure that clean air is being filtered into your home.

Modern Air Conditioners

If you’re wondering how does A/C work in terms of the environment, don’t worry. Although older conditioners carried refrigerant formulas that contained chlorine atoms that could potentially damage the ozone layer, things have changed. Thankfully, this chemical composition has shifted over the last few decades due to international treaty agreements and the result of environmental concerns. Modern air conditioners contain a far more environmentally-friendly coolant.

Understanding how your air conditioning system helps make you a more prepared homeowner. Nobody wants to get caught in the heat with a busted A/C. That said, if you’re worried the fixes might be too much for you to handle alone, consider investing in a home warranty. With a warranty, you can keep your cool knowing someone has already been sent to fix your broken air conditioning. 

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